Triggers and the Contagion of Leadership

You know that co-worker that you have… the one that just keeps getting under your skin? No matter what he (or she) says or does, it’s the wrong thing? Even when you try to get along, he’ll say something stupid that will just set you back further? Wouldn’t life just be easier if he would just go away?

Truth be known: he irks you because you let him… and it may be more about you than you think or choose to admit. When we are triggered by someone, or something, we get thrown into a response that can sometimes be out of proportion to the situation.  This amplification is a cue that it’s less about the other person and more about, well… you.

As a leader, when you are triggered, frustrated, annoyed, or irritated that energy is both observable and contagious. Your team performance suffers, as does your reputation. Boyatzis and McKee talk about this contagion of leadership in Resonant Leadership. On the flip side, when you are curious, confident, compassionate and accountable, so too is your team. What team would you rather lead?

This week I invite you to join in my experiment. When you get triggered by someone, stop and ask: “What’s my part in this.” Get serious and real with yourself. Try these tactics:

  1. Change your lens. You see the world through your filters. Values, beliefs, family history, past experiences: these all shape your perception of people and situations. You can’t change another, you can only change yourself, so try on a new pair of glasses to see the world through.
  2. Own your part. If someone gets under your skin, look in the mirror. You might just be casting your shadow where it doesn’t belong.
  3. Get curious. What’s going on for the other person? Would your response be different if you came at it from a learner mindset?

e-musings confession: I’ll tell you what gets my irk on… ego. Pure. Arrogant. Ignorant. Better-than. Ego… That grandiose sense-of-self is in direct conflict with my value around learning. And if I get really, deep-down honest with myself I’m triggered because I, too, can be egotistical. I inadvertently make other people feel small when I show up with blinders on. So, to make life easier (on me!) I prefer casting that shadow onto someone else rather than own it myself. Please tell me I’m not alone!

We get triggered all the time. It’s how we respond to those triggers that determines our character. Notice, reflect and then choose your response. I know it’s something I’ll be working on… forever.

 

Don’t Be Blinded: Seeing Opportunity in Blind Spots

It might be the fact that Mary jumps in to finish peoples’ sentences, or John has an incessant need to be right… Maybe David lacks follow-through or Sarah’s cutthroat mentality leaves her employees wounded. Blind spots. We all have them – those personality quirks (or full-on flaws) that are obvious to everyone but us. And, the truth is, when we discover them, they can be… well, blinding. It takes vulnerability to uncover them and courage to point them out to others.

In Fearless Leadership, Loretta Malandro says “most successful leaders are unaware of two things: (1) the impact of their blind spots on others and (2) the degree to which others work around them and avoid confronting the real issues.” Organizational potential gets strangled because of these blind spots.

And though the interpersonal outcomes of a leader’s blind spot can be weighty, the thing to remember is these behaviors are usually sub-conscious, resulting in unintended impacts. Where leaders do get into trouble is in:

  • Not getting curious about their blind spots
  • Ignoring them altogether
  • Thinking they are immune, and have none
  • Immediately dismissing feedback that highlights a potential blind spot.

Let’s get real… a blind spot isn’t a blind spot anymore if you know about it already but choose to ignore it… That’s just leadership carelessness. Even if the feedback shocks you beyond belief, take it as a cue to pause, take a deep breath, and look for the part that is true – even if it’s only 2%. The choice is yours. Once uncovered, a blind spot is information that can help you up your game – you can wallow in self-pity, or look for the opportunity (easier said than done, I know!). Just know you’re not alone. We all have them. And, if you think you don’t have any… think again. There’s your blind spot.

Some common leadership blind spots or pitfalls that I’ve come across (caveat: more often than not, these are not conscious, intended behaviors, but rather unconscious, unproductive habits):

  • Needing to be right: When you need to be right, someone needs to be wrong. This winner-loser mindset really is a no-win game.
  • Thinking you have all the answers: Being the go-to answer-guy is seductive, but the unintended impact of this blind spot is stifling others growth.
  • Quick to say No: Saying “No Way” or bringing a negative mindset to everything instead of exploring possibilities is a sure fire way of getting people to work around you. Let’s face it; no one likes a constant Debbie-Downer.
  • Not really listening: While you might be in the same room as someone, your mind wanders to other places or you re-direct the conversation back your way (a move I call the “Back To Me” (BTM)). The unintended impact? Others feel insignificant. (Read Mobilize Strategies great post on Listening).
  • Having an inflated sense of self: Leading from a place of ego leaves little to no room for learning. The impacts of this grandiose sense of self are that people may shut down and stop collaborating with you. Ego can break a team.
  • Being unaware of your impact: The mother-of-all blind spots, you’re either too “busy” to notice, unable to read others, or just don’t care how you’re impacting your colleagues. This blind spot leaves others thinking you’re cavalier and insensitive. Don’t be surprised if people start avoiding you.

If any of these strike a nerve or get you thinking… it may be time to explore what blind spots might be getting in your way.

e-musings leadership tips on uncovering blind spots:

  • Seek feedback often – the good, the bad and the ugly
  • When you learn about a blind spot, slow down, get curious and find the grain (or boulder!) of truth in it
  • If you notice a potential blind spot in a colleague, help to enable their success by:
    • Asking if they are open to hearing some feedback
    • Being as specific as you can – what behavior do you notice and what is the impact (on the team, on results, etc…)
    • Getting curious and helping them process the information

Any comments or stories to share? Have you ever been blinded by a blind spot? How did you work through it?

Leadership and the Art of Car Racing

Last week I had some amazing conversations with leaders who have realized that to keep on top of their game… to have the impact that they want… they need to consistently hold the mirror up to their leadership. They know that leadership is a process, not a destination, and one that requires constant awareness, reflection, insight and change.

Now let’s be honest. Leaders often get to where they’re at because of a ruthless drive they have inside of them… a striving for excellence and success. And yet sometimes (okay, often!) this race to the top is often done with the elbows out and blinders on. The danger comes when leaders think that they’ve reached the top of their game because of this spirited, success-at-all-cost mentality, rather than realizing that success has likely come in spite of it.

In Marshall Goldsmith’s book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” he states that the higher a leader gets in the organization, the more their problems are behavioral. In other words, the distinguishing factor of leaders at the top is that they bring awareness to their own behavioral liabilities, AND they make a commitment to getting better. Goldsmith says, “as we advance in our careers, behavioral changes are often the only significant changes we can make.” So, all other things being equal, the lesser leader is unwilling to address their own inter- and intra-personal challenges, often with a mindset that they’ve already arrived at their leadership destination.

I’m not saying to diminish or erase that deep internal drive that many leaders have – in fact, I find that quality of leadership admirable and powerful. I am saying that to have more of an impact, to be more of a leader, we need to have greater awareness about the impact we’re having – not only on results but also on the people around us. Results happen through people.

I once told a client that it’s a bit like the difference between racing a drag race and being in a Formula 1 race. In a drag race, you have a straight stretch of road, the focal point of a finish line being right in front of you. It’s foot down and haul ass to the finish. In Formula 1 racing, you are on a twisting and turning track with a bunch of other cars. Sometimes you need the gas; sometimes you need to strategically brake. You are always attuned to where the other drivers are around you, and you rely on your pit crew to keep you and your car at the top of your game. (**Disclaimer: not being a car racer myself, this is my own, perhaps naïve, interpretation! Forgive me Michael Schumacher.)

So to up your skills as a leader, take the blinders off. It might be bright and overwhelming at first, but with the right mindset it can be full of learning and reward.

Here are some things to try this week:

  • Ask for feedback from a peer, a direct report, and a boss. Don’t settle for generalities – ask for details and specifics… stay curious.
  • Set your own leadership goals. What is the impact you want to have in your time as a leader? What’s your aspiration?
  • Have your antenna up. Look for evidence (even subtle signals) that you are having the impact you want. Adjust and make change if not.
  • Find a thinking partner – a coach, an impartial friend… someone who can hold the mirror up for you and tell you the truth about your impact — good, bad and ugly.

Next week, we’ll dive into the common behavioral pitfalls that trap leaders. In the meantime – let’s hear from you: what’s the biggest behavioral change you’ve made as a leader, and what impact did it have?